When You Need a Quick Fix: “Homemade” Soup!

It’s cold outside, you’re running late and it’s time for dinner. Sounds to me like you could use a quick fix. That’s exactly what I have for you today—fabulous recipes that take only minutes to prepare and are guaranteed to bring rave reviews. The secret is these hearty soups are only somewhat homemade (shhhh!).

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Chicken Pot Pie Soup

This is a terrific way to use up that leftover chicken and at the same time disguise those cans of soup you bought on sale. You won’t believe how good and “from scratch” this soup is.

  • 2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast meat
  • 1 16 ounce package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
  • 1 10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of potato soup
  • 1 10.75 ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 2 cups skim milk (or 2% if you want it creamier)
  • 1 large potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (optional)

In a medium sauce pan combine chicken, mixed vegetables, cream of potato soup, cream of chicken soup and milk. Heat through over medium high heat and serve with crumbled crackers on top. Optional: Add cubed potato and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potato cubes are fork tender. Serves: 4. Multiplies well. Hint: In place of crackers, place a hot biscuit on top of each bowl of soup.

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Five Highly Useful FREE Websites

The Internet is a wonderful thing. In what seems like a few short years, this phenomenon has changed the world—our lives! Somedays, I wonder how we lived without it. But with all of its wonderfulness, it can also be very intimidating. Sometimes you just need a friend (like me) to slog through all of the nonsense to point you to websites that are highly useful and—the best part—free!

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A BOWL FULL OF LEMONS. Just in case one of your resolutions this year is to get more organized, check out A Bowl Full of Lemons, an online community for those striving to get their lives in order. The website is loaded with ideas and weekly challenges to get you into organization mode. You’ll also find tips on budgeting and the best way to clean your house.

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS. Watching the news these days can make us want to run for cover. But, instead of hiding, make your own corner of the world a better place to be. For ways to do just that, go to Random Acts of Kindness. You’ll find lots of free and low-cost ideas, such as letting someone go ahead of you in the shopping line or giving someone you meet a sincere compliment. Personally, I am drawn to the idea, “Sew for Free.” I love all kinds of needle and fiber crafts, so the idea of offering to mend, hem or sew someone’s clothes for free, as a simple act of kindness, appeals to me. 

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How Does $500 Sound in Exchange for a Scratch or Dent?

DEAR MARY: I love your columns that I read in our local newspaper. We need to purchase a new washing machine and would like your recommendation.  I tried to find a column you previously wrote on this subject but was unsuccessful. We need a large capacity machine for our large family.  Thank you. Monica

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DEAR MONICA: Go to EverydayCheapskate.com and you will find all of the columns including those that do not show up in your newspaper. When you get to that website, there is a search box in the upper right area, “search my blog.” Type in washing machine or some other key word(s) and you will find what you’re missing. You can always count on every Everyday Cheapskate column to be archived at this site.

I’m thinking you should head over to Sears Outlet website.  Because Sears carries so many brands of appliances and they have so many stores across the country, this outlet site consistently offers some of the best deals out there. This is where damaged and refurbished appliances go to be sold at highly discounted prices.

When you get to the site, expect to find every dented washer Sears has available for sale at the time you search, located in every Sears Outlet store in the country.

I find Sears Outlet to be a great learning site. It’s amazing just how many models each appliance manufacturer has and what the suggested retail price was before it was sent to the outlet. Outlet appliances will be new or refurbished, and at prices around 50 percent off. 

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Soap Scum Remover So Effective It’s Magical

I could sit for hours reading the lovely letters, notes and questions you send to me. I could, but I can’t. What I can do is reach into the bag and pull out a few messages to answer and for us to read and enjoy together.

DEAR MARY: Sometime ago you gave your readers a cleaning formula you’d received years ago from a professional housecleaner. The formula sounded way too simple to do anything. I work really hard to keep our clear glass and tile shower spotless, so I gave it a shot. Wow! The results are amazing. The tile has no soap film and the clear glass is really clear. You really gave us a winner in that DIY cleaning solution. (See “How to Make Ugly Soap Scum, Mildew and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic” for the formula and simple instructions.)

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Your column is so very practical and easy to follow. One tip that I have been using for a few years is to stash away any $5 bill that comes my way. By the ed of the year I have a great Christmas fund. I have dipped into it during the year for emergencies, always replacing what I take out I has become my own personal Christmas Club! Thanks for being such a friend to all your readers. Barbara

DEAR BARBARA: I knew you’d love that tub and shower cleaner. I’ve never heard from anyone who didn’t! Good for you on that personal Christmas Club. Saving is its own reward for the personal joy and satisfaction it brings. I’m proud that you’ve made this a personal habit.

DEAR MARY: I read your column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about cleaning windows. As dirty windows are my pet peeve, I would like to tell you my experience with stubborn water spots. After spending $30,000 on windows for my home a few years ago, I kept developing these fine water spots on a few windows in particular, which turned out to be a residual effect from sprinklers in my flower gardens. I tried every single window cleaner on the market including CLR. I employed every “old wive’s tale” cleaner but without success.

The stubborn spots remained. In desperation, I called Pella (the window manufacturer) and explained it to them. They told me to use Bar Keepers Friend Liquid Soft Cleaner from the local hardware store or online. It worked like a charm. I applied a small amount and used a circular motion to scrub the spots; wiped it off with a damp paper towel. Since then maintain my clean windows with regular window cleaner. Couldn’t have been happier. I enjoy your column! Mary Pat

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From Clutter to Chaos … to Calm

Recently I read about a couple who live in Oklahoma City. They don’t have a lot of clutter in their house but they do find it impossible to part with their children’s things. The guest cottage behind their house is nearly filled with old toys, outgrown clothes, years of kids’ artwork, school papers, trophies, sports paraphernalia, baby beds, bassinets and a rocking horse. Seems they can’t bring themselves to clean it out or part with all of these things for fear their now-grown children will think they don’t love them.

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I know the feeling, and honestly I don’t think it’s that unusual. It’s just that most of us don’t have a guest house where we can stash and hide all the clutter. Thankfully, it is possible to deal with clutter in realistic and reasoned ways so that it doesn’t turn into chaos.

Marla Cilley, known to many as the Fly Lady and author of the fabulous book, Sink Reflections, says CHAOS is an acronym for “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.”

The good news is that clutter does not have to control our homes and our lives. It requires only a modicum of determination to take that very first baby step toward conquering stuff. Then another and another all the way to peace and serenity.

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Why 88% of New Year’s Resolutions Fail and How to Make them Work

Back by popular demand. Happy 2016!

More than half of Americans, reportedly, make New Year’s resolutions. And 88 percent of those resolutions end in failure, according to a study by British psychologist Richard Wiseman.

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There is a scientific reason for this fail rate that once we understand, we’ll be able to keep our resolutions long enough to make them stick.

The bottom line is that our brains cannot handle New Year’s resolutions. No seriously. It has to do with willpower and our brains’ cells that operate that particular mental function.

The human brain is divided up into sections—each one handling different aspects of brain function. The pre-frontal cortex (the part located at the front behind your forehead) is assigned the tasks of 1) staying focused 2) handling short-term memory 3) solving abstract tasks and 4) willpower.

Here’s the problem: That part of your brain cannot handle all of those things at the same time. It requires a huge amount of focus and willpower to change a learned behavior overnight, which is what a New Year’s resolution demands.

Bad habits are hard to break—and they’re impossible to break if we try to break them all at once. The focus and willpower required are just too much for the human brain. It simply cannot deliver.

The human pre-frontal cortex is like a muscle. It has to be trained. If you joined a local gym, you would never dream of starting out lifting a 300-pound barbell on your first session. You’d start with a 2-pound weight for a 2-minute session, working up slowly to heavier weights and longer periods of endurance.

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Spending HOW Much on Groceries?

Is your monthly grocery spending eating up a big portion of your income? You’re not alone. Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that, on average, a family of four now spends up to $1,300 a month on the food it consumes at home. Here, let me do the math: that’s $15,600 annually!

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Want to cut that cost by oh, let’s say HALF? You can if you are determined to become a smart shopper, employing every trick and tip in the book—without sacrificing your family’s health and joy of eating great food while keeping $7,500 or so in your pocket over the coming year.

CHOP CHOP. Sure, those precut bags of vegetables and single-serving packets of oatmeal are convenient, but Consumer Reports says you’ll pay twice as much. Worst offenders: Cut, washed and bagged veggies ($11 a lb. vs. $3 for, say, bulk broccoli), single-serving containers ($9.90 per oz. for oatmeal in envelopes vs. $1.59 for the canister) and sliced cheese ($2 more per pound). Do your own chopping, shredding, grating and measuring and you will save a bunch.

BUY RIGHT. Most of us simply buy more produce and other perishables than we can use before they spoil. A rotten apple here, a limp carrot there—it all means money in the trash. According to National Resources Defense Council, the average American household throws out 25 percent of the food they buy—$3,900 per year for our typical American family of four! 

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How to Clean a Shark Vacuum and Filters

You know how much I love my Shark vacuum cleaner. And given my inbox where readers can write to me, I know that thousands of you now love your Sharkies, too.  And I love the comments you send in. They make me smile because I know the range of emotions from amazement to flat out embarrassment. Where on earth did all of this dirt and debris come from? I can’t believe what’s been lurking in our carpets!

photo credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpAR3Ibf814

photo credit: www.youtube.com

With all of the miles I’ve put on my Sharks over the years, I’ve never had one fail. And while the manufacturer boasts that Sharks never lose suction, that is predicated on regularly cleaning Sharkie’s canister, filters and rotating brush. It’s right there in the owner manual, which most of don’t think to read until we have a problem. You need to clean your Shark monthly to keep it working at top efficiency. It’s easy.

SIGNS SHARKIE NEEDS A BATH: 1) loss of suction 2) dirt being left behind 3) sounds weird like Sharkie is gasping for air 4) an unpleasant, dirty odor.

ROTATING BRUSH: First unplug the vacuum. Lay it down on the floor so you can see the rotating brush. You may want to place a bag or towel underneath to catch the debris and dirt you’re about to release. More than likely you will see strings, hair, and other material wrapped around the brush. This is normal. I use a pair of scissor to cut through whatever has wound itself around the brush. That makes it easy to release all of that stuff from the brush. You may have to pull and tug a bit, but it will come off.

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